As Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) and Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) started to meet again on 17 March, for the seventh round of peace talks, aided by the historical meeting between the Kachin Independence Organization/ Army (KIO/KIA) delegation with the President and Commander-in-Chief at Naypyitaw prior to the peace negotiation, fierce Burma Army offensive on Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) goes on unabated.
The MNDAA offensive, which has started out on 9 February, has now turned into a prolonged defensive nature and it seems the government troops are having a hard time trying to dislodge the Kokang fighters and their allies Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), which have openly declared that they are fighting along side against the Burma Army. KIA, Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Mong La were also accused of giving a helping hand to MNDAA by the the government, but all denied to be involved in the Kokang fighting.
The government side maintains that the MNDAA started the fight and it is not going to give the party the legitimacy of a negotiation partner, but only determined to flush out its fighting forces, annihilate or swing them to surrender.
The MNDAA sees its offensive to retake the Kokang area as its home coming to reclaim its legitimate right back, which the Burmese military has unfairly robbed from MNDAA. The then military regime, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), sided with Peng Jaisheng’s deputy and chased him out, as he declined to accept the military demand to come under Border Guard Force (BGF) program. His deputy yielded to the Burmese military demand and was eventually made the ruler of the Kokang Special Administrative Area.
According to 19 March VOA report, Myat Htun Lin, MNDAA spokesman made it plain that its recent military operations are due to Burma Army’s 2009 military actions against it, using various false accusations.
The then military regime accused MNDAA with weapon production and drug trafficking as pretext to chase Peng Jaisheng and its MNDAA out of Kokang area.
It was speculated that the MNDAA, in fact, only wants to establish its legitimate political presence, within the mold of NCCT and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) to bargain for its rights of self-determination. But with the Burma Army’s ego badly hurt for losing so many combatants on its side, it is highly unlikely that the UPWC will accept MNDAA as negotiation partner for now.
Hla Maung Shwe, senior member of UPWC, recently said in an interview that the directive of Union Peace-making Central Committee (UPCC) doesn’t include MNDAA, although NCCT insists that it is one of its member.
The same VOA report, Burmese Section, pinpoints the frustration of MNDAA, aired by its spokesman Myat Htun Lin, when he said: “ I couldn’t understand anymore. This is like waging a defensive war against foreign invasion, using heavy weapons, fighter bombers, tanks and all. I’ve already said that we cannot accept this for we Kokang people are citizens and indigenous of the Union of Burma and also geographically a part of Burma, which is accepted by all.”
Regarding the Kokang conflict, Naing Han Thar, chair of the NCCT, said in his opening remarks at the start of the seventh round of formal talks on a draft ceasefire in Rangoon, “In order to implement genuine and lasting peace, at the talks we need to discuss the issues happening in Kachin State, Palaung region and Kokang region to decrease tensions,” according to Myanmar Times report of 18 March.
He further elaborates:“We believe we will get eternal peace if we can hold all-inclusive political dialogue that includes all ethnic armed groups, after signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement.”
Meanwhile, TNLA released a statement pointing out that the increased military offensives in Kokang and Palaung areas are in no way conducive or beneficial to the ongoing peace talks in Rangoon and questions the sincerity of the government.
With the poisoned China-Burma relationship, due to Burma’s warplane accidentally bombing the Lincang county of Yunan Province, killing five Chinese and wounding eight of them, the Kokang conflict has turned into an international issue. While talks of compensation, investigation, apologies and punishment of the responsible parties are on the Chinese government agendas, the real pressing, core problem is on how to resolve the border conflict and at the same time, maintain friendly relationship between the two countries.
The priority of the Chinese is to restore peace and normalcy along the border and to protect its vast economic interest within Burma. But this doesn’t mean that China is going to dump MNDAA or the people of Kokang and side with the Burmese regime. This means the regime needs to employ a more accommodating political settlement through negotiation and not waging a total annihilation war, just to satisfy its ego, against Kokang and other ethnic groups along the border. For prolonged war along the border with China will, sooner or later, brings direct conflict with China, as the recent accidental bombing in Yunan shows.
For China, sealing the border or creating a border buffer zone is also not a solution, as its vast economic interest will be in jeopardy. And so it is left with the only option of pushing the warring parties to negotiate for a peaceful settlement. China has once intervened, by convening peace talks, to reduce tension between the KIA and Burma Army in 2012, when Burma Air force dropped bombs on Chinese soil in pursuit of the KIA troopers seeking sanctuary along the Chinese border.
Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail within the Thein Sein regime and should earnestly consider the NCCT’s proposal of “all-inclusive” negotiation atmosphere, so that peace and harmony could return to Kokang and the rest of ethnic homelands.
The contributor is ex-General Secretary of the dormant Shan Democratic Union (SDU) — Editor